The Last Supper is the final meal that, according to Christian belief, Jesus shared with his Apostles in Jerusalem before his crucifixion. The Last Supper is commemorated by Christians especially on Maundy Thursday. Moreover, the Last Supper provides the scriptural basis for the Eucharist also known as "Holy Communion" or "The Lord's Supper".
The First Epistle to the Corinthians is the earliest known mention of the Last Supper. The four canonical Gospels all state that the Last Supper took place towards the end of the week, after Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and that Jesus and his Apostles shared a meal shortly before Jesus was crucified at the end of that week. During the meal Jesus predicts his betrayal by one of the Apostles present, and foretells that before the next morning, Peter will deny knowing him.
The three Synoptic Gospels and the First Epistle to the Corinthians include the account of the institution of the Eucharist in which Jesus takes bread, breaks it and gives it to the Apostles, saying: "This is my body which is given for you". The Gospel of John does not include this episode, but tells of Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles, giving the new commandment "to love one another as I have loved you", and has a detailed farewell discourse by Jesus, calling the Apostles who follow his teachings "friends and not servants", as he prepares them for his departure.
Scholars have looked to the Last Supper as the source of early Christian Eucharist traditions. Others see the account of the Last Supper as derived from 1st-century eucharistic practice as described by Paul in the mid-50s.
- 1 Terminology
- 2 Scriptural basis
- 3 Time and place
- 4 Theology of the Last Supper
- 5 Remembrances
- 6 Passover parallels
- 7 Historicity
- 8 Artistic depictions
- 9 See also
- 10 Citations
- 11 References
- 12 External links
The term "Last Supper" does not appear in the New Testament, but traditionally many Christians refer to the New Testament accounts of the last meal Jesus shared with his Apostles as the "Last Supper".
Most Protestants use the term "Lord's Supper", stating that the term "last" suggests this was one of several meals and not the meal. The term "Lord's Supper" refers both to the biblical event and the act of "Holy Communion" and Eucharistic ("thanksgiving") celebration within their liturgy. Evangelical Protestants also use the term "Lord's Supper", but most do not use the terms "Eucharist" or the word "Holy" with the name "Communion".
The last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples is described in all four canonical Gospels (Mt. 26:17-30, Mk. 14:12-26, Lk. 22:7-39 and Jn. 13:1-17:26). This meal later became known as the Last Supper. The Last Supper was likely a retelling of the events of the last meal of Jesus among the early Christian community, and became a ritual which recounted that meal.
Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians,[11:23-26] which was likely written before the Gospels, includes a reference to the Last Supper but emphasizes the theological basis rather than giving a detailed description of the event or its background.
Background and setting
The overall narrative that is shared in all Gospel accounts that leads to the Last Supper is that after the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem early in the week, and encounters with various people and the Jewish elders, Jesus and his disciples share a meal towards the end of the week. After the meal, Jesus is betrayed, arrested, tried, and then crucified.
Key events in the meal are the preparation of the disciples for the departure of Jesus, the predictions about the impending betrayal of Jesus, and the foretelling of the upcoming denial of Jesus by Apostle Peter.
Prediction of Judas' betrayal
In Matthew 26:24-25, Mark 14:18-21, Luke 22:21-23 and John 13:21-30 during the meal, Jesus predicted that one of his Apostles would betray him. Jesus is described as reiterating, despite each Apostle's assertion that he would not betray Jesus, that the betrayer would be one of those who were present, and saying that there would be woe to the man who betrays the Son of man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.[Mark 14:20-21] In Matthew 26:23-25 and John 13:26-27, Judas is specifically identified as the traitor. In the Gospel of John, when asked about the traitor, Jesus states: “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him."
Institution of the Eucharist
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The institution of the Lord's Supper is recorded in the three Synoptic Gospels and in Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians. The words of institution differ slightly in each account, reflecting a Marcan tradition (upon which Matthew is based) and a Pauline tradition (upon which Luke is based). In addition, Luke 22:19b-20 is a disputed text which does not appear in some of the early manuscripts of Luke. Some scholars, therefore, believe that it is an interpolation, while others have argued that it is original.
A comparison of the accounts given in the Gospels and 1 Corinthians is shown in the table below, with text from the ASV. The disputed text from Luke 22:19b-20 is in italics.
|Mark 14:22-24||And as they were eating, he took bread, and when he had blessed, he brake it, and gave to them, and said, ‘Take ye: this is my body.’||And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.’|
|Matthew 26:26-28||And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it; and he gave to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’||And he took a cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, ‘Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins.’|
|1 Corinthians 11:23-25||For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me.’||In like manner also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.’|
|Luke 22:19-20||And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave to them, saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.’||And the cup in like manner after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, even that which is poured out for you.’|
Jesus' actions in sharing the bread and wine have been linked with Isaiah 53:12 which refers to a blood sacrifice that, as recounted in Exodus 24:8, Moses offered in order to seal a covenant with God. Scholars often interpret the description of Jesus' action as asking his disciples to consider themselves part of a sacrifice, where Jesus is the one due to physically undergo it.
Although the Gospel of John does not include a description of the bread and wine ritual during the Last Supper, most scholars agree that John 6:58-59 (the Bread of Life Discourse) has a Eucharistic nature and resonates with the "words of institution" used in the Synoptic Gospels and the Pauline writings on the Last Supper.
Prediction of Peter's denial
In Matthew 26:33-35, Mark 14:29-31, Luke 22:33-34 and John 13:36-38 Jesus predicts that Peter will deny knowledge of him, stating that Peter will disown him three times before the rooster crows the next morning. The three Synoptic Gospels mention that after the arrest of Jesus Peter denied knowing him three times, but after the third denial, heard the rooster crow and recalled the prediction as Jesus turned to look at him. Peter then began to cry bitterly.
Elements unique to the Gospel of John
In John, Jesus has his last supper and is executed not on the day Nisan 15 (the first night of Passover) but on Nisan 14, when the Passover lambs were slaughtered. Presumably the author preferred this date because it associated Jesus as the Lamb of God with the sacrificial lambs of Passover.
John 13 includes the account of the washing the feet of the Apostles by Jesus before the meal. In this episode, Apostle Peter objects and does not want to allow Jesus to wash his feet, but Jesus answers him, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me”,[Jn 13:8] after which Peter agrees.
In the Gospel of John, after the departure of Judas from the Last Supper, Jesus tells his remaining eleven disciples [John 13:33] that he will be with them for only a short time, then gives them a New Commandment, stating: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” in John 13:34-35. Two similar statements also appear later in John 15:12: "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you", and John 15:17: "This is my command: Love each other."
At the Last Supper in the Gospel of John, Jesus gives an extended sermon to his disciples.[John 14-16] This discourse resembles farewell speeches called testaments, in which a father or religious leader, often on the deathbed, leaves instructions for his children or followers.
This sermon is referred to as the Farewell discourse of Jesus, and has historically been considered a source of Christian doctrine, particularly on the subject of Christology. John 17:1-26 is generally known as the Farewell Prayer or the High Priestly Prayer, given that it is an intercession for the coming Church. The prayer begins with Jesus' petition for his glorification by the Father, given that completion of his work and continues to an intercession for the success of the works of his disciples and the community of his followers.
Time and place
Scholarly estimates for the date of the crucifixion generally fall in the range AD 30-36. Physicist Colin Humphreys rules out the year 36 on astronomical grounds. He presents other grounds for holding that the crucifixion of Jesus occurred in the afternoon of Friday, 3 April 33, and says that this was 14 Nisan in the official Jewish calendar that year.
The Gospels say that Jesus died on a Friday and that his body was left in the tomb for the whole of the next day, which was a Shabbat (Saturday).[Mk. 15:42] [16:1-2] The Synoptic Gospels present the Last Supper as a Passover meal[Matt. 26:17][Mk. 14:1-2] [Lk 22:1-15] and they seem to suggest that it was held on the evening before the crucifixion (although in no Gospel is it unequivocally said that this meal took place on the night before Jesus died). This would mean that the Passover feast (15 Nisan) began at sunset on what now would commonly be called Thursday evening and lasted until sunset on Friday (the Jewish calendar reckons a date as beginning at sunset, not at midnight). On the contrary, the Gospel of John presents the feast as beginning on the evening following the afternoon death of Jesus. This would mean that the Friday of the crucifixion was the day of preparation for the feast (14 Nisan), not the feast itself. Various attempts to reconcile these two accounts have been made, some of which are indicated in the article on the Last Supper by Francis Mershman in the 1912 Catholic Encyclopedia.
In the 1950s Annie Jaubert argued that, while in the year of Jesus' death the official lunar calendar had Passover begin on a Friday evening, a 364-day year was also used, for instance by the Qumran community, and that Jesus celebrated the Passover on the date given in that calendar, which always had the feast begin on Tuesday evening. More recently, Humphreys, who holds that the "Palm Sunday" entry of Jesus into Jerusalem occurred on Monday, not Sunday, argued that the Last Supper took place on the evening of Wednesday 1 April 33. If the Last Supper was on Tuesday (Jaubert) or Wednesday (Humphreys), this would allow more time than in the traditional view (Last Supper on Thursday) for interrogation of Jesus and his presentation to Pilate before he was crucified on Friday.
According to later tradition, the Last Supper took place in what is called today The Room of the Last Supper on Mount Zion, just outside of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, and is traditionally known as The Upper Room. This is based on the account in the Synoptic Gospels that states that Jesus had instructed a pair of unnamed disciples to go to "the city" to meet "a man carrying a jar of water", who would lead them to a house, where they would find "a large upper room furnished and ready".[Mark 14:13-15] In this upper room they "prepare the Passover".
No more specific indication of the location is given in the New Testament, and the "city" referred to may be a suburb of Jerusalem, such as Bethany, rather than Jerusalem itself. The traditional location is in an area that, according to archaeology, had a large Essene community, a point made by scholars who suspect a link between Jesus and the group (Kilgallen 265).
Saint Mark's Syrian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem is another possible site for the room in which the Last Supper was held, and contains a Christian stone inscription testifying to early reverence for that spot. Certainly the room they have is older than that of the current coenaculum (crusader - 12th century) and as the room is now underground the relative altitude is correct (the streets of 1st century Jerusalem were at least twelve feet (3.6 metres) lower than those of today, so any true building of that time would have even its upper storey currently under the earth). They also have a revered Icon of the Virgin Mary, reputedly painted from life by St Luke.
Theology of the Last Supper
St. Thomas Aquinas viewed The Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit as teachers and masters who provide lessons, at times by example. For Aquinas, the Last Supper and the Cross form the summit of the teaching that wisdom flows from intrinsic grace, rather than external power. For Aquinas, at the Last Supper Christ taught by example, showing the value of humility (as reflected in John's foot washing narrative) and self-sacrifice, rather than by exhibiting external, miraculous powers.
Aquinas stated that based on John 15:15 (in the Farewell discourse) in which Jesus said: "No longer do I call you servants; ...but I have called you friends". Those who are followers of Christ and partake in the Sacrament of the Eucharist become his friends, as those gathered at the table of the Last Supper. For Aquinas, at the Last Supper Christ made the promise to be present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and to be with those who partake in it, as he was with his disciples at the Last Supper.
John Calvin believed only in the two sacraments of Baptism and the "Lord's Supper" (i.e., Eucharist). Thus, his analysis of the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper were an important part of his entire theology. Calvin related the Synoptic Gospel accounts of the Last Supper with the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6:35 that states: "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry."
Calvin also believed that the acts of Jesus at the Last Supper should be followed as an example, stating that just as Jesus gave thanks to the Father before breaking the bread,[1 Cor. 11:24] those who go to the "Lord's Table" to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist must give thanks for the "boundless love of God" and celebrate the sacrament with both joy and thanksgiving.
The institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper is remembered by Roman Catholics as one of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, the First Station of the Scriptural Way of the Cross and by most Christians as the "inauguration of the New Covenant", mentioned by the prophet Jeremiah, fulfilled at the last supper when Jesus "took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, 'Take; this is my body.' And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, 'This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.'"[Mk. 14:22-24] [Mt. 26:26-28][Lk. 22:19-20] Other Christian groups consider the Bread and Wine remembrance to be a change to the Passover ceremony, as Jesus Christ has become "our Passover, sacrificed for us",[1 Cor. 5:7] and hold that partaking of the Passover Communion (or fellowship) is now the sign of the New Covenant, when properly understood by the practicing believer.
These meals evolved into more formal worship services and became codified as the Mass in the Catholic Church, and as the Divine Liturgy in the Eastern Orthodox Church; at these liturgies, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox celebrate the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The name "Eucharist" is from the Greek word εὐχαριστία (eucharistia) which means "thanksgiving".
Early Christianity observed a ritual meal known as the "agape feast" These "love feasts" were apparently a full meal, with each participant bringing food, and with the meal eaten in a common room. They were held on Sundays, which became known as the Lord's Day, to recall the resurrection, the appearance of Christ to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the appearance to Thomas and the Pentecost which all took place on Sundays after the Passion.
Raymond Brown has argued that during the Jewish Passover Seder, the first cup of wine is drunk before the eating of the (unleavened) bread, but here it occurs after. This may indicate that the event was not the first Passover Seder (which occurs on Nisan 15), and hence more in line with John's chronology which places it on Nisan 14, although the meal could easily have been altered during the Last Supper for symbolic or religious purposes. Among Christian denominations, the Eastern Orthodox Church holds that this Eucharistic meal was not the Passover Seder, but a separate meal. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) documents also specifically reject the Seder arguments and state that given that no Jewish Seder texts exist earlier than the 9th century, it is historically implausible to attempt a reconstruction of the Seder to create a parallel to the Last Supper, and that the Gospel accounts clearly indicate that the purpose of the Last Supper was not the annual repetition of the Exodus.
The fifth chapter in Quran, Al-Ma'ida (the table) contains a reference to a meal (Sura 5:113) with a table sent down from God to ʿĪsá (i.e., Jesus) and the apostles (Hawariyyin). However, there is nothing in Sura 5:113 to indicate that Jesus was celebrating that meal regarding his impending death, especially as the Qur'an insists that Jesus was never crucified to begin with. Thus although, Sura 5:113 refers to "a meal", there is no indication that it is the Last Supper. However, some scholars believe that Jesus' manner of speech during which the table was sent down suggests that it was an affirmation of the apostles' resolves and to strengthen their faiths as the impending trial was about to befall them.
Some scholars consider the Lord's supper to have derived not from Jesus' last supper with the disciples but rather from the gentile tradition of memorial dinners for the dead. In this view, the Last Supper is a tradition associated mainly with the gentile churches that Paul established, rather than with the earlier, Jewish congregations.
Luke is the only Gospel in which Jesus tells his disciples to repeat the ritual of bread and wine. Bart D. Ehrman states that these particular lines do not appear in certain ancient manuscripts and might not be original to the text.
However, many early Church Fathers have attested to the belief that at the Last Supper, Christ made the promise to be present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, with attestations dating back to the first century AD. The teaching was also affirmed by many councils throughout the Church's history.
The Last Supper has been a popular subject in Christian art. Such depictions date back to early Christianity and can be seen in the Catacombs of Rome. Byzantine artists frequently focused on the Apostles receiving Communion, rather than the reclining figures having a meal. By the Renaissance, the Last Supper was a favorite topic in Italian art.
There are three major themes in the depictions of the Last Supper: the first is the dramatic and dynamic depiction of Jesus' announcement of his betrayal. The second is the moment of the institution of the tradition of the Eucharist. The depictions here are generally solemn and mystical. The third major theme is the farewell of Jesus to his disciples, in which Judas Iscariot is no longer present, having left the supper. The depictions here are generally melancholy, as Jesus prepares his disciples for his departure. There are also other, less frequently depicted scenes, such as the washing of the feet of the disciples.
Well known examples include Leonardo da Vinci's depiction, which is considered the first work of High Renaissance art due to its high level of harmony, Tintoretto's depiction which is unusual in that it includes secondary characters carrying or taking the dishes from the table and Salvadore Dali's depiction combines the typical Christian themes with modern approaches of Surrealism.
Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1480, depicting Judas separately
The first Eucharist, depicted by Juan de Juanes, mid-late 16th century
Valentin de Boulogne, 1625-1626
Last Supper by Jerg Ratgeb
Last Supper by Jaume Huguet
Last Supper by Tiepolo
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- Bread of Life Discourse
- Chronology of Jesus
- Farewell discourse
- Life of Jesus in the New Testament
- New Covenant (theology)
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